Germans are known for their craftsmanship for words other languages require whole sentences for. We can express literally anything with one word by just connecting multiple words with our superpower.
But even as a native speaker, I recently thought about how I know how to form such words. It's not that I know any rules - it's just a feeling.
I was asked to form a question and here it is:
Are there any defined rules I can show my kids one day on how they can build such words?
I mean, we have a lot of literature about grammar but I do not remember being teached word compounds.
Here are the concepts that came in my mind while I (obviously) sat in a plane as the question popped up in my head:
At first sight, we simply love to put a "s" between two nouns to glue them together like ...
- Sicherheitskontrolle from "Sicherheit" and "Kontrolle"
- Freundschaftsanfrage from "Freundschaft" and "Anfrage"
- Aufsichtsperson from "Aufsicht" and "Person"
But we also have many cases we take the leading noun and put it in plural like ...
- Personenkontrolle from singular "Person"
- Tragflächenkontrolle from singular "Tragfläche"
Then we also have rules to keep the first noun in singular without "s" or anything else to glue the words together like ...
- Flugzeugkontrolle instead of "Flugzeugskontrolle" or "Flugzeugekontrolle"
- Führerscheinkontrolle instead of "Führerscheinskontrolle" or "Führerscheinekontrolle"
As if this would not be enough, there are also cases we shorten words to glue them like ...
- Kontrollpersonal from "Kontrolle" and "Personal"
- Schraubverschluss from "Schraube" and "Verschluss"
Tadaa, we can also combine all that like the shortener and the "s"-glue in ...
- Hilfsmittel from "Hilfe" and "Mittel"
Note that I limited these examples to nouns only. This is also possible for verbs like Haltevorrichtung from "halten" (the verb) and "Vorrichtung".
As I wrote this, I thought I got the difference between the pluralizer and the singular version. It's the perspective whether - from my perspective - a thing affects multiple things like the multiple persons I see during a Personenkontrolle (plural) and my single driver license the police wants to see in a Führerscheinkontrolle (singular). But that's not true as well, because then I would have to say that there's a Führerscheinekontrolle in plural if I saw the police checking multiple cars along a road, for example. Just like I saw the Personenkontrolle affecting multiple persons before.
That approach obviously does not work, you would face surprised germans while saying Führerscheinekontrolle. However it gives a feeling about the "one thing" vs. "multiple things" here:
Führerscheinkontrolle (singular) vs. Personenkontrolle (plural)
But that all explodes if we take another example of two perfect german words, meaning exactly the same thing:
Wegbeschreibung (singular) vs. Routenbeschreibung (plural)
- Sicherheitskontrolle = Security check
- Freundschaftsanfrage = Friend request
- Aufsichtsperson = Supervisor
- Personenkontrolle = Identity screening
- Tragflächenkontrolle = Wing inspection [aviat.]
- Flugzeugkontrolle = Aircraft inspection
- Führerscheinkontrolle = Driving licence check
- Kontrollpersonal = Control staff
- Schraubverschluss = Screw cap
- Hilfsmittel = Aid
Disclaimer: I know that this is not a real superpower 😉